Hooray! A few family history buffs have abandoned FamilySearch long enough to respond to a Maine reader, who wanted to know how to get genealogical information and do temple work for hostile nonmember relatives. Some of them helped us out with church policies that tell us what we can or shouldn’t do. Others came up with creative solutions for how they involve family members in family history work.

Let’s see what they had to say:

We have the same problem in our family. There are many who would be offended if they found out that their dearest relative was baptized posthumously into the Latter-day Saint church. Our family has decided on a waiting policy. We generally don’t do the work unless they were born before about 1875. We felt it was more important to be sensitive to their wishes and be good Christians that way rather than push our own church’s agenda.

We have heard so many stories of people not being sensitive and the relatives were completely turned off to anything to do with the Church. We have also heard of someone doing, say, an uncle’s work without asking, and denying the son the opportunity. We felt that Heavenly Father understood our predicament and knew we are doing the best that we can. The work will get done one day.

As far as getting family history from relatives, we have found that we just have to go forward and redo the research despite them. They will never share because we are Mormons and we can’t wait for them to change their minds.

Hope this helps.

Sister in Las Vegas

Thanks for giving us your perspective, Las Vegas. As long as you’re doing the best you can, it really is a comfort to know that the work will be done one day – even if not by you. Your letter reminded me of the scripture in Mormon 8:22: “For the eternal purposes of the Lord shall roll on, until all his promises shall be fulfilled.” (And no, I didn’t know the scripture reference. I had to look it up.)

I have a similar problem. After my mother died my father remarried. He passed away many years agoand my stepmother died a couple of years ago. But because I am not a blood relative I cannot take the initiative to perform the temple ordinances on her behalf and her children areantagonistic to what they see as so much mumbo jumbo.

I feel sure my father would want to be sealed to both his wives, whom he loved dearly in this life, but I fear it is something that will have to wait for the millennium. The only possible solution is to leave this work to my children, or even my grandchildren, to perform. If there are any definitive statements of church policy, I would love to know where I can find them.


Your wish is granted, Angela. There are several letters in today’s column that offer definitive church policy statements on the subject. Keep reading, and your questions will be answered!

Whenever I have a conversation with a relative and a piece of information comes out such as a birth, death or marriage, I memorize the important names and facts and jot them down when I am able to be by myself. If it is about a death, I search the local newspaper online looking for an obituary.

I save wedding invitations and birth announcements. I ask discreet questions but not too many. The family knows of my interest in genealogy and sometimes offers information, too. My husband and I serve on the cemetery board where many relatives are buried, and we have access to all the records. I still haven’t been able to ask a nonmember cousin if we can have the temple work performed for her parents, but when the opportunity arises I hope I am ready.

Kolby K


What a sensitive letter, Kolby! You’re interested but not pushy, and you take every opportunity to glean information where you can. Your relatives are fortunate to you in their family.

Read on from a letter from another reader who has creative ways of involving all family members in genealogy:

Your question has long bothered me. My father, after 30 years of marriage to my LDS mother, joined and ultimately was a missionary with her and also worked in the temple. He did his two brothers’ work, and we didn’t worry about it, partly becausethey had no sons to do it.

But now I’m emotionally inclined to do his sisters, and they have living daughters. No members are involved in the situations.

I’ve decided to wait for good feelings on the subject, both from them and from the Spirit, hopeful that one day a daughter can do her own mother’s work.

In the meantime, because I have gathered years of interesting material regarding our mutual ancestors, I’ve started a newsletter which I send out to all the cousins. I encourage memory sharing and other exchanges of information. And I throw in an occasional provocative quote or thought as to the great significance of meaningful things. They are fine people, and over time I am seeing some response.

MW Green

Your newsletter idea is terrific, MW. If you share the information you have with relatives, it’s likely that they’ll return the favor. It’s a lot easier for everyone if you look as family history as something that can be shared and appreciated by family members of all religions, rather than something that is exclusively the concern of Latter-day Saints.

My relatives have all been wonderful about sharing family information with me, especially when I volunteer to share what I have compiled on their branch of the common family lines. I never say anything about ultimate temple ordinances when asking for that information, and since so many people these days are interested in their “roots” they are usually interested too, but have no idea how to go about collecting it themselves. They are usually only too happy to let me do the digging and share my findings with them.

Later on, when all the information is collected and I determine which relatives need temple ordinances, only then do I approach them with those requests. Let me share something that has worked well for me in getting their permissions.

During the last 10 years of his life, my father would pick up anti-LDS information and bombard me with it. I developed ways to deflect that and we got along just fine. One day, however, it suddenly occurred to him that even if he did not accept the gospel while he was alive, I could have his temple work performed by proxy after he died. He told me in no uncertain terms that “When I die, I do not want you doing work for me in your temple!” (My mother was listening intently to this exchange, although I didn’t realize it at the time.)

I asked my father, “If I had a million dollars and wanted to give it to you, no strings attached, would you take it?” My father, not a wealthy man by any worldly standards, was comfortable in his financial position. He was also a proud man and answered me, “Of course not! I have everything I need. I do not need a million dollars!”

I continued, “If I went to a bank and set up an account in your name and deposited the million dollars into it, with the understanding that it was there if you needed or wanted it, would you accept custody of the bank book?” He thought a minute and then grudgingly replied that he would, although he would never use the money!

I explained that temple work for the dead is like that bank account. The “money” is there ready to be used. It cannot be used by anyone else, and if the owner never wants to use it, it will still be there in case he or she ever changes his/her mind. Temple ordinances for the dead are like “money in the bank.” My father grumbled some more, but we both knew that was one argument he did not win.

After my father died, when I asked different cousins or an aunt for permission to perform ordinances for their deceased family member (usually my parents’ siblings), they would invariably ask my mother for a further explanation. She always replied enthusiastically, “Let her do it! It’s like money in the bank!”

Incidentally, my mother did not join the Church before she died at the age of 85 years. I was able to take her to the Boston Temple open house, where she had a powerful spiritual experience. She talked about that experience to me every time I would visit. I guess she felt that she was too old at that point to be baptized. But she had a strong testimony of the importance of temple work and would happily verify feelings I had about the women whose temple ordinances I had performed.

I learned many things about my family through performing their temple ordinances for them. My mother verified so many of the feelings and impressions I received, that I have learned to trust those impressions. When Mom died in 2005, we were thrilled to be able to perform her ordinances for her exactly one year (almost to the minute) later.

Esther Pettengill

What a great story, Esther. I’m sure a lot of people are going to remember your “money in the bank” analogy and use it on their own relatives. It’s a terrific idea!

As a convert and the only member in my family, I understand your sticky situation. Ifollow the church’s guidelines (https://www.lds.org/pa/familyhistory/pdf/Member%27s%20Guide%20May%2009–Chapter%207.pdf).The guidelines say, “Before you perform ordinances for a deceased person born within the last 95 years, obtain permission from the closest living relative. Relatives may not want the ordinances performed or may want to perform the ordinances themselves. The closest living relatives are, in this order: a spouse, then children, then parents, then siblings.”

I am comfortable doing ordinances for ancestors who passed away more than 95 years ago, because I don’t think anydirect-line living relatives would necessarily know what that ancestor would wish. Any objections at that point seem to be more as a protest against the doctrine of the Church than concern for the individual ancestor.

I also think it is important to let your relatives know that the performance of ordinances is not efficacious unless the deceased individual accepts the ordinance. So, if they really believe that person won’t want the ordinance done, they can be reassured that the person does not have to accept it.

Finally, I used a back door approach with my family to generate interest in family history by interviewing family members about their personal lives and then sharing those personal histories with extended family. I started with my parents and I wrote in the foreword, “So often we speak of a child having his father’s nose, his mother’s eyes, his grandfather’s smile. The mirror reflects this blend of all who lived one, two, and even twenty generations ago. We also reflect a personal and unique blend of the character, intelligence and talents of our ancestral reservoir. Looking into the past we can say, ‘Now that I know you, for the first time I know myself.'”

My parents and siblings were delighted with the gift. It helped them realize that researching family history was not just a checklist item to be completed, as assigned by the weird church I had joined, but a labor that grew out of my love for family members.

My mother, who remained very negative about my membership in the Church until her death, loved to see the stories, historical background, original documents, and pictures I was able to gather about her line. When my father passed away, I tentatively approached her about doing his work. I was surprised, delighted and deeply moved when she gave me permission. I was even more touched when she gave all the family pictures to me the year before her death. She told me that I was the only one left in the family that cared about them. This change of heart took more than two decades, so don’t be discouraged.

Apple Valley, California

That’s another terrific idea, Karen – doing personal histories and then sharing them with family members. I appreciated reading that it took more than two decades to change your mother’s heart despite your best efforts. This is one area where we all need a little patience.

As a family history lover and family history consultant,I can understand your question. That’s one of the reasons I love the newfamilysearch (https://new.familysearch.org/en/action/unsec/welcome). You can, as you have done, reserve work and complete it at a later time, which was not possible before newfamilysearch (https://new.familysearch.org/en/action/unsec/welcome).

The church’s policies are pretty clear:

To do ordinances for a deceased person born in the last 95 years, please obtain permission and honor the wishes of close relatives. Relatives may not want the ordinances performed or may want to do the ordinances themselves. The closest living relatives are, in this order: an undivorced spouse, an adult child, a parent, or a brother or sister.

I have seen the hurt that people experience when they prepare to do temple work for a close relative (born within 95 years) and find that someone who was not closely related has already done the work.

who does the work, it is to provide these ordinances for people we love so they may have to opportunity, if they choose, to progress in their understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and accept the ordinances of eternity.

I have seen the hurt that people experience when they prepare to do temple work for a close relative (born within 95 years) and find that someone who was not closely related has already done the work. I remind them that no one does temple work intending to cause hurt feelings; sometimes people just don’t understand the policies. But the goal of temple work is not who does the work, it is to provide these ordinances for people we love so they may have to opportunity, if they choose, to progress in their understanding of the gospel of Jesus Christ and accept the ordinances of eternity.

I remind them to be grateful that that work has been done. Be thankful that someone loved their family member enough to complete that work. Sometimes we have to set aside our own wishes and desires, and look at things from an eternal perspective.

For people born before the 95-year mark, you don’t need permission to complete the work. Once I was helping someone as we prepared some of her aunts and uncles (born before 1900) for temple work. She said that one uncle didn’t deserve the opportunity since he beat her aunt. I gently reminded her that we are not the ones who decide who “deserves” the opportunity for eternal life. The Savior has already made that decision, and we are blessed with the experience of providing these ordinances for everybody because of His sacrifice and love.

Sometimes nonmembers or less-active family members don’t understand the feelings of love and tenderness that we feel as we prepare names for temple work and complete that work. If the relatives that you would like to provide temple ordinances for are close (parent, grandparent) and within the 95 year time limitation, perhaps a sincere loving letter to the persons objecting may soften hearts and build bridges. After all, the purpose of temple work is to build those bridges for eternity. But if we build walls here, we haven’t really accomplished our desires for an eternal family!

In the letter you can speak of your love for your family member, your belief about the eternal nature of families, your testimony of Jesus Christ, and a simple explanation of what the temple and temple ordinances mean to you. Sometimes nonmembers and/or less- active members simply don’t understand what temple work really means and why we do it.

Heavenly Father loves you and your family members and knows and understands your heart and the hearts of your family members. If feelings are still strong against completing the work, I would suggest simply waiting until the spirit tells you the time is right. You can fast and pray for your living family members to have their hearts softened; you can put their names on the temple prayer rolls; you can even pray that the individuals you desire to do temple work for will help you from the other side.

I testify that we have help from our ancestors from the spirit world. I know they know our desires, and I know that if we are patient, and follow the example of Jesus Christ, we will see miracles as hearts are softened, and the walls will come down, allowing us to complete the work of Heavenly Father – bringing to pass the immortality and eternal life of our own family members through the saving ordinances of the temple.


Christine, it hadn’t even occurred to me to call upon deceased family members to help work miracles on this side of the veil. Great idea!

Isn’t family history wonderful?

Yes, sometimes we do run across relatives who are “less than enthusiastic” about temple work. And we also communicate with relatives who are positive they want nothing to do with temple work. But then we find relatives who are very welcoming. Then relationships are born and joy is shared.

For those of us who have questions about procedures for preparing names for temple work, may I suggest we read (and re-read) the New Family Search User’s Guide (https://www.familysearch.org/eng/home/welcome/frameset_information.asp) on the New Family Search Web site.

In our enthusiasm, sometimes we neglect the training and helps that are there.

In regards to A Sister in Maine’s problem, go to the particular page titled “When Should I Obtain Permission before Performing Ordinances for the Deceased?” The 95-year rule is discussed, as well as the order of the closest living relatives. Personally, I would wait to do the temple work until either permission by the living relatives is given or the 95 years are complete.

In addition, we need to be respectful for all the time and money spent in researching ancestors. When someone jumps in with “about dates” for births, marriages, deaths, or takes information off the Internet with no sources being listed, it makes family history discouraging. Please add your sources so family members can find them. And communicate with family members so that unnecessary time and money are not being wasted but put to the best use.

That’s what New Family Search is all about. We all benefit.

KRR in Alaska

Thanks for the plug for NewFamilySearch (https://new.familysearch.org/en/action/unsec/welcome), KRR. That’s such an amazing program that even I can do genealogy, and I have no talent for it whatsoever. Readers, if you haven’t visited the site yet, by all means do so. It’s amazing how much family history you can accomplish in a very short period of time.

I, too, have had this problem for 50 years! It takes lots of time and lots of love. When I started gathering information, as soon as my relatives found out I had joined the LDS Church, all doors closed. I just patiently prayed and kept loving them and visiting them when I would return to Iowa (where I was raised).

It was amazing to me how the doors did start opening. I have even had two sisters who have stood up for the Church recently in the churches they attend. This is nothing short of a miracle. As they have asked questions I have answered them with scriptures from the New and Old Testament, and it has worked. Each time I visit them I make a matter of prayer that I can answers their questions by using the New and Old Testament. It has taken a long time, but patience and prayers have been the answer.

All I can say to this sister is to never stop; it will happen. It may take a long time but this is the Lord’s work and it will move forth!

Irene Bywater

Thanks for an inspirational letter, Irene. It was especially gratifying to be reminded that if you treat your relatives with kindness, patience, and love, even the most diehard nonmembers will occasionally be inspired to stand up for the Church.

My parents and my siblings were the first converts in our family in the late 1950’s. I guess we have not been very good missionaries, because none of the extended families have joined the Church.

At one time when I was showing some of my nonmember family our ancestors on family group sheets and pedigree charts, a cousin asked about the LDS information. My aunt responded, “Oh, that just shows that all the Mormons are going to heaven in one big happy family and the rest of us go to hell.”

I said, “Aunt, Do you believe that? If you do, then maybe you should do something about it. But if you don’t believe we have that priesthood power to seal together families for the eternities, then does it make any difference?” She was quiet and has not complained since about my doing the temple work for family members so I think that is the key: Ask them if they believe we have that power in the first place. If not, then why should they be upset?

This same answer works well when a nonmember points out that we couldn’t be the true church because we didn’t allow the blacks and don’t allow women to have the priesthood. I’ve always found that very interesting that they would fault us for not giving the priesthood that they didn’t believe we had in the first place, to another group of people. It makes me smile.

Your Sister in the West

It’s good to have a sense of perspective as you do, Sister-in-the-West. If we don’t have the authority, any ordinances we do shouldn’t matter in the slightest. It’s puzzling how many people don’t understand something that seems so simple.

Our last letter talks about patience for family members who have the agency to act as they will – even when we don’t like their choices.

This reader is even older than I am, so her words deserve a little respect:

This is my opinion. I am not in any position that I can speak for the Church. Based on seven decades of learning, this is my understanding.

A key to this issue is in the concept of agency. We each have agency to join or not join the Church. We have agency to perform or not perform family history research, whether or not a member of the Church. Only worthy church members can participate in temple ordinances that are based on family history research.

Coupled with agency is the principle of patience. In the last general conference, President Uchtdorf addressed patience. It is generally accepted that Father will not remove the right of agency from any of his children even when exercising that agency will cause harm to other of his children. In returning to his presence all harm and damage are repaired, and through repentance the child causing the damage can also return to live with his Father.

This is the basic issue in doing temple work that extends outside of our direct lineage. In our excitement to do the work we can prevent another child of our Father from exercising his or her agency to bring blessings to that child and his family.

Since I am not identifying where I live, I will use an example. My stake president is a first- generation adult convert to the Church. Some time ago he went to do the temple work for his father and found that some one not directly related to his father had already done the work. That the work was done was good, but the personal link between father and son could not be strengthened through having the son do that work.

Another example is within my family. As I am an adult convert to the church I have many relatives that are not members yet. I did the work for my parents and arranged to be sealed to them. My mother is the oldest in her family and it is possible, if I did not follow Church guidelines, for me to do the work for my mother’s brothers and sisters. If I were to do so I would prevent my cousins, whom I grew up with and lived with, from exercising their agency to do that work when they join the Church and to strengthen that parent-child link.

They are not members (yet). They can still learn and exercise that agency to become members and then exercise that agency again to do the temple work for their parents. Do I have the right to deprive them of the opportunity to do their own parents temple work? I think not. Once they are deceased, they no longer have the ability to do the work; that agency resides with the extended family at that time.

In preparing the information for doing temple work under New Family Search there is a box that has to be marked that says that I have read and understand the Church policies on who can submit the names of deceased persons for the performance of temple work. The policy can be reviewed at that point or it can be reviewed through the help screens. Below is a quote from those policies:

Church members are responsible to provide temple ordinances for the following individuals who have been deceased at least one year, without regard to worthiness, mental ability, or cause of death:

Immediate family members.

Direct-line ancestors (parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, etc., and their families).

Other Possibilities

Church members may also provide temple ordinances for the following family members who have been deceased at least one year. For individuals born within the last 95 years, permission from the closest living relative is required. (See section 7, Permission to Do Ordinances.)

Biological, adoptive, and foster family lines connected to their family.

Collateral family lines (uncles, aunts, cousins, and their families).


Descendants of direct-line ancestors and their families.

Possible ancestors. These are individuals who have a probable family relationship that cannot be verified because the records are inadequate. These may include individuals who had the same last name and resided in the same small geographic areas as known ancestors.

Close friends. This is an exception to the rule that members should submit only the names of individuals of their own family and ancestors.

Before performing ordinances for a friend, a member should obtain permission from the individual’s closest living relative.

Persons Born within the Last 95 Years

For deceased persons born within the last 95 years, see section 7, Permission to Do Ordinances.

Section 7 — To do ordinances for a deceased person born in the last 95 years, please obtain permission and honor the wishes of close relatives. Relatives may not want the ordinances performed or may want to do the ordinances themselves. The closest living relatives are, in this order: an undivorced spouse (the spouse to whom the individual was married when he or she died), an adult child, a parent, or a brother or sister.

We need to and must do the temple work for the deceased as rapidly and as quickly as possible. There is a tremendous amount of work to be done, and we here in mortality are responsible to do it all.

We must not destroy the principle of agency. We must exercise patience in all things so they are done in the Lord’s time frame. We must allow those who are experiencing mortality at this time to grow and progress as they choose, allowing them the right to exercise their agency to do or not to do the temple work for their parents.

When the immediate family relatives are deceased (section 7) the responsibility rests with the extended family that remains in mortality.

There you have it, readers. The letters here have given you some personal suggestions as well as church guidelines on the subject. I hope this will inspire all of you to get out and do family history work.

We’ll start a new topic next week. If you have any topics for future discussions, please send them to [email protected] Be sure to put something in the subject line so I’ll know the letter isn’t spam. I’m looking forward to hearing from you.

Until next time – Kathy

“I testify that when we do all we can to accomplish the work that is before us, the Lord will make available to us the sacred key needed to unlock the treasure which we so much seek.”

President Thomas S. Monson